Candidates Talk Business at Ferndale Area Chamber Forum

Candidates Talk Business at Ferndale Area Chamber Forum

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 10/17/2011)

The Ferndale Area Chamber Commerce hosted a Candidate’s Forum on Oct. 12, 2011.  Business owners came together to meet the candidates for Mayor and City Council and find out what they had to say about interacting with the business community.

Resident Ray Willis is running against incumbent Dave Coulter for the position of Mayor.  For City Council there are three candidates for two open seats. Current Councilperson Mike Lennon is up against Sherry Wells and Dan Martin.

Each candidate filled out a questionnaire for the forum and took questions from those in the audience.   (Download pdf).

Dave Coulter began the introductions, by saying, “I want Ferndale to be the friendliest and easiest city to open a business in Oakland County.  I want to make sure this a place where businesses feel welcome.  I want you to use our services.  I was a county commissioner for eight years.  Oakland County is known as very business friendly community.  When we hired Derrick Delacourt, who many of you have worked with as the Economic Development coordinator, I told him we had a mission.  You need to meet with the business owners, find out what they need and make it happen.”

He told the business owners, “Government doesn’t create jobs, you do.  We can’t create jobs, but we can create a positive environment where business feel welcome and we can help them grow.”  He also said that as an Oakland County Commissioner he brought forward a resolution to use local preference, but that his attempts were not successful.

“There’s a couple things that the city can do [to help business],” Coulter said. “We can selectively use tax policy to give abatements to businesses. The other thing I think we can do is have a better relationship with Oakland County.  When a business comes in they don’t call each individual city they call the county, so they need to know what we have to offer.”

Ray Willis, who is running for the Mayor position, introduced himself to the business owners.  “One of the reasons I moved to Ferndale, besides that the housing was affordable here, was because I am a businessman.  I did siding and replacement windows.  When I moved here I saw the way other companies marketed and I didn’t like it.  I started my own business. And I haven’t made a lot of money, but I have made some, and I can appreciate what business owners go through.”

His vision is to “run as a business,” he said. “I want to have the focus be on residents as customers. And we need to look for ways to make money and not just expect residents to give it to them.”

Willis tried to explain his position on the recent millage increase that residents approved.  “I voted no on the override, but I am willing to give a little more money for the services the city has to offer.  …My property taxes are high because I live on a double lot.  …I hope the city can run without going to the maximum of the override.”

He said that in his neighborhood on the City’s SE side has a 15-20% vacancy rate in the homes and businesses.  “If we can get jobs in here we can fill those houses. I don’t know if it’s really the business of the city to get people in.  But I know with the tax breaks given to Garden Fresh we may be able to give tax breaks to fill residencies too, maybe establish a tax free zone for people to buy homes.”

Willis, who lived on the West Side of the state for several years, added “I’ve been happy with everything I’ve seen in govt.  The city services are better in Ferndale than in Grand Rapids.”


The three candidates for Council spoke next, with incumbent Mike Lennon going first.  “I’m an independent thinker,” he said.  “My family was all Democrat, but I don’t affiliate myself with a party.  I’m Independent.

‘Everything we do on council can affect businesses.  We’re in the business of business retention. Everything we do helps you survive.  We keep the city safe with police and fire, we keep the streets plowed and clean so people can get to your business.”  He also mentioned that increased code enforcement keeps the city looking clean and attractive to customers and potential new business.

One of his focuses is to change how the City accesses taxes on expansion.  “We can make it so your taxes don’t go sky high when you add on to your home or business,” he said.  He clarified that the Garden Fresh tax incentive was not an isolated benefit.  “We are open to tax incentives, we’ve just not had any come across our desks.”  And he spoke about the importance of the City using local contractors when there isn’t a large difference in bids.   A few years ago when we got a new police cars I pushed to give the contract to Ed Schmidt Ford even though it was slightly higher, Kate Baker and I looked at each other and said “no, we gotta keep this local.”

He closed by saying “With me you’ve got longevity and commitment.”

Dan Martin said that “the  real important thing is to have a city that allows you to make it easy to open a business and easy to stay.  How you interface with government should be clean and easy.  Last three years I’ve had the privilege of being Chair of the Ferndale Com Foundation, and I’ve gotten to see how the business community supports the City.  We are never turned down.  We take this money and use it to micromanage grants in the community.  I believe passionately about this city.  I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

He thanked business owners for choosing and staying in Ferndale.  “So much work has already been done [to improve things for the business community].  We’re getting new ideas and fresh talent into positions to help the businesses, and they can look for grants and other ways to make it easier to do business in Ferndale.”

Sherry Wells said that 23 years ago she chose Ferndale because “I was doing a lot of public speaking and with all the freeways I can get to anywhere in the area within an hour.  When I was looking for a home there were so many people working on their homes and yards, and I thought that was a good sign.”

She got involved in community activism shortly after moving.  “In the early 90s there was a study and I read that thoroughly, they wanted to put a ring road in and that went right through my neighborhood so I got involved.”

Wells also worked on the Charter commission, saying she would attend meetings, go home, read a bedtime story to her daughter, and then stayed up several more hours working on legal matters for the Committee. She is a member of the Chamber through Rotary, and is currently researching the sign ordinance.  “We don’t need it looking like the Las Vegas strip, there must be some balance,” she said.

She also brought up the noise ordinance and said “We need to make sure new businesses do not hurt the neighborhoods.”

Business owners in attendance found the event helpful, and also enjoyed the pizza and salad provided by the Chamber.  “I think the forum was well organized and it was good information for business owners. It was sad to see how few business owners came to learn about their new potential council members and mayor,” said Carol Jackson, Board Member of the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce and owner Bits & Pieces Small Business Solutions.  “It is very important to understand the politics of your city and be part of the solutions of making this a strong community. I have a consulting company and I am a resident of this wonderful community. I don’t have a store front or rent business space, however I think that everyone that generates income from our city should take an active part of the politics.”

There is one more forum for the candidates, and each is busy hosting fundraisers and knocking on doors to meet potential voters.  Citizens for a Fair Ferndale will hold a Candidate Forum for the upcoming Mayoral and City Council elections. The forum will be held on Sunday, October 23 at 1pm at the Ferndale Public Library.

For our candidate questionnaires and coverage of other forums, please go to:


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